What is an Occupational Disease?

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  • Written By: Ken Black
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 11 September 2019
  • Copyright Protected:
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An occupational disease is one that can be attributed, or one could reasonably conclude is caused by, one's occupation. The disease is often caused because of either exposure to chemicals or the quality of the air or water. Identifying the disease as an occupational disease is very important for insurance reasons. To stop an occupational disease from spreading, there are often safety procedures in place.

Any occupational disease could be a very serious thing. Some diseases will show up when the employee is still on the job, meaning there could be lost time from work, and lower productivity at the very least. The disease also may wait years to materialize, with the employee not showing symptoms until long after he or she has quit or retired. In the worst case scenarios, it could end in death.

Occupational lung diseases are especially prevalent in some jobs. One of the worst of the conditions that could be caused is cancer. Pulmonary fibrosis, which is a family of approximately 180 diseases, is another deadly occupational disease that needs to be taken care of as quickly as possible. As with any lung disease, early detection can be a key in stopping the spread, and controlling the condition. Some jobs are more prone to occupational lung and respiratory disease. These include mining, construction, welding, steel working, and popcorn factory work.


Another common form of occupational disease is related to infectious disease. These could include nearly all manner of diseases from the common cold to HIV, hepatitis, and other serious conditions. Those most at risk for these conditions are those who work around infected people, such as in hospitals, schools, war zones, and in prisons.

Most major organs can be affected by different occupational illnesses. Occupational skin disease can result in cancer, for those who work outdoors. Neurological diseases may affect those who work around pesticides or even in plastics manufacturing. The heart can also be affected by very physically demanding jobs.

In most cases, there are precautions that can be taken against occupational disease. Many of those who work in areas where particulates are known to cause harm - wear masks. Those who work outdoors often wear long sleeves, even in the summer, and use sunscreen on exposed areas. Healthcare workers use gloves, masks, and other protections when dealing with infectious patients.

Those who believe they have an occupational disease should first contact their employer, or former employer. If the employer does not help, or will not provide worker's compensation coverage, seek an opinion from a doctor. In some cases, it may be necessary to begin legal action. Once the case goes to court, the individual will need as much documentation as possible about the illness, and how his or her occupation may have caused it.



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